Enjoying it

I don’t usually describe myself as a lazy person, but I must admit that I have had lazy tendencies since the weather turned from dead-of-winter to glorious summer (seasons are confusing here) and that I’d much rather spend my time doing nothing in my much-loved back yard than sitting inside editing photos or working on new designs. It’s a bit unfortunate, since my head is full of ideas. BUT. I have an almost-4-year-old. I want her life to be filled with memorable memories, and I’m determined to break her of her addiction to the television, so we spend 4-8 hours a day out of doors, and then I edit or knot after she’s gone to bed (which is completely at odds with my business plan, but we do what we can) and commit ourselves never to waste a day (or waste away).

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I got a Harmony Ball. I’m not going to explain what it’s for. I love it, and am probably driving people nuts with my jingling.


I also got a Luckenbooth brooch from my husband, which inspires me to find my Claddagh ring (which was a gift from my sister in law – I seriously need silver polish) and I will this week. As soon as I find an end to today’s laziness.

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I have been on a bit of a sabbatical from…well, most of the things I like to do in my free time lately, opting instead to spend my time lazing around with my family. It’s a nice way to spend the time before the snow melts, I think. In honestly, I’ve been almost constantly on the go – I’m not sure when my social calendar became so full, but alas.

I made a few mala last month, but hadn’t gotten around to photographing and listing them on my Etsy shop yet, so I finally did it last night. They’d been stored away and I hadn’t seen them in some time, and forgot how much I loved them. The hand-knotted feeling is¬†so much better than the feeling of a cheaply made stretchy mala in your hands. There’s just something so much more solid and grounded about it.

I’ve got two photographed and ready to go. The first is 108 count 8mm white turquoise with red sandalwood markers and a natural jasper guru bead. It’s snake-knotted (two cords) in burgundy with a matching handmade burgundy tassel. It’s a tight knotting, at 34″ (approximate) and wears comfortably around the neck or wrist.

White turquoise buddhist mala White turquoise buddhist mala White turquoise buddhist malaI also knotted another mala that I’m quite proud of – this one is strung from 8mm blue jasper stones, with red jade markers with filigreed bead caps and a metal guru bead. The handmade tassel is black to match the knots. It can be found on my Etsy shop as well.

bluejasper1 bluejasper2 bluejasper3Thanks for reading ūüôā

Jen McLeod, Concrete Oyster



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Welcome to the Hotel California

Or rather, the Hotel Snowville. You can check out, but no one will ever let you talk about leaving the city I live in without major amounts of guilt, and a laundry list of reasons you should never live anywhere else.

I should explain. For years, my husband and I set our sights on moving across the world to New Zealand. Recently, our plans changed for various reasons, but we were very very serious about it, and still do have a plan to exit the Edmonton area. However, I doubt we will bother telling anyone around here that we ever plan to leave, as my experience with sharing my plans to move away have been overwhelmingly negative. And uninformed. And they seem to be based in fear.

“Oh, you’re moving? Where to?”
“New Zealand.”
“You shouldn’t move there – it’s REALLY expensive to live there.”

Every. Freaking. Time.

Let me be clear – Edmonton is the fifth most expensive metropolitan area to live in within Canada, so I guess, to me, the “XXX place is too expensive to live” doesn’t hold much water. I have become accustomed to responding “It’s really expensive to live in Edmonton”, which is usually met with a blank stare. Then, the next reason comes out. It’s usually one of these:

  • They have earthquakes there
  • It’s too hot
  • It rains too much
  • They don’t get much sunshine
  • Their winters are¬†way worse than ours
  • Their economy sucks
  • They have weird accents
  • They don’t have a very good healthcare/education system

Some of these reasons are based on opinion, and some are of relative or very little importance, and some are just untrue and based on ignorance. Nonetheless, I answer.

  • We have tornados
  • I prefer hot to cold
  • I like rain
  • I don’t think that’s true
  • Our winters are worse than anywhere – there’s no comparison
  • Their economy isn’t bad
  • You have a weird accent – it’s pronounced OUT, not OAT
  • They have fantastic healthcare and education systems – possibly better than ours

It’s so strange to me that people don’t mind telling you when you’re making a wrong choice, but they¬†hate being disagreed with. I discussed this with a friend once (OK, I discuss this with a lot of friends, fairly regularly – there is a secret society of people who are¬†not opposed to living places other than Edmonton, but most keep quite to avoid the backlash) and she pointed out to me that many people, being afraid of the unknown as they are, don’t actually like to live here, but continue to do so because of fear, and crave to feel validated in doing so by spouting negativity at anyone else who would make another decision. People get¬†so offended when I say that I don’t like Edmonton, but no one ever says “why don’t you just move away then”. They WANT me to stay here and just accept that Edmonton is the perfect place to live, despite the fact that I don’t feel that way.

So the next time a friend tells you he is thinking about moving to Texas, don’t try to discourage him with talk about giant bugs and gun control. And if a colleague says she’s moving to Paris, keep your mouth shut about tiny flats and how “dirty” that place is (even though you’ve never been there). Try to imagine yourself as the poor kid in Zimbabwe who wants to move to Edmonton, whose friends are asking “why would you want to move there? It snows most of the year, is extraordinarily expensive to live, has a horrible bus system, its hospitals are overcrowded, it has among of the highest crime rates in Canada and the cost of flying out of Edmonton is prohibitive to any kind of travel. Oh and it smells terrible because of all the refineries – though I’m sure you’ll stop noticing eventually.”

We’ve made new plans – we’re not staying here forever either. But I’m more hesitant to talk to people about them now, having learned my lesson about people and their adversity to change, and how offended they become when my plans don’t mirror theirs. Interesting, isn’t it?

I believe that anyone can choose to be happy where they are. I also believe that the heart knows what it wants, and mine tells me I want to be able to stand with my feet in the ocean, to take walks in the rain year round, to enjoy the place I live, rather than just tolerate it (or worse). It’s possible to live almost any place – people do it ALL THE TIME. Open your mind, and maybe your heart will follow you somewhere else.

Me on my wedding day

Me on my wedding day

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Random complaining

For some reason, I sometimes find myself thinking about the jobs I’ve held in the past that just sucked. I don’t know what good I think it does me to linger on these things, since they’re long over and I doubt I’ll ever be anything but self-employed again, but sometimes ya just gotta get it out. Right?

I’ve worked at a few places that weren’t exactly great. Every workplace has it’s problems, and some are worse than others, but the absolute worst place I ever worked was Home Depot.

Worst. Ever.

Honestly, it was¬†atrocious¬†and I wouldn’t wish such things upon anyone. There was the usual range of irritations, like when I was working in the Paint department, and my manager constantly booked me for shifts when I was clearly marked as unavailable (I was hired as part time, and they knew I was in school), then would implied that it was somehow my fault,¬†then refused to change it. ¬†I remember asking an assistant store manager, for the 20th time or so, to override my schedule, and having her ask me “when is this problem going to be fixed” as though I’d somehow caused my manager to just ignore when I was booked off.

At one point, the company (or maybe just the store I worked at) became fixated on “safety”, and asked us employees to keep an eye out for safety issues. I spotted one right away – the people they’d hired to vacuum the ceiling (yes, they could pay people to do that, but they couldn’t afford to pay me more than $9.26 per hour, nor could they afford to give their employees a discount) had knocked one of the lamp shades out of place, so it was hanging off of the ceiling lamp. If you’ve never seen one of these, they’re massive, and made of glass. The precarious angle it hung at, right over the section I worked in, made me queasy. I pointed it out to a manager, who sternly told me to stop making trouble.

Speaking of, one of my favourite episodes included a young man in a wheel chair with a mental disability. One of the most unfortunate parts of working at Home Depot was that a lot of the customers seemed to think that it was a nightclub. Being asked out wasn’t uncommon at all, and I was quite accustomed to politely responding “I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend”. One day, a young man in a wheel chair with a mental disability (I sincerely hope I’m not offending anyone with such a description) rolled up to me and said “will you go out with me”. I responded “I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend” and exited. 15 minutes later, I was dragged into the general manager’s office by one of the assistant store managers, who told me that this particular young man had told her that I “grabbed him by the shirt, yelled in his face ‘are you f***ing r*****ed?’ for absolutely no reason”. Yep, I got written up for it, and was told if I acted that way again, I’d be fired.

But, being blamed for something you hadn’t done or wasn’t your fault wasn’t unusual. Once, when I worked as a cashier, a woman came in and claimed that she’d left around $1000 worth of items at my till, and that they were gone. I hadn’t seen her at my till, or ever before in my life, and I’m pretty sure that the receipt she was holding in her hand belonged to a contractor who’d been through an hour earlier, but she was¬†adamant¬†and I was in deep trouble for somehow losing or stealing all her items, even though I had not left my till and had no place to hide them.

But, it wasn’t all bad. At Christmas, the company gave use Christmas gifts – usually $25 Home Depot gift cards. I only had to share my locker with two other people. I got a bright new apron whenever I wanted. Oh, and by the end of my (too long) employment there, they had eliminated the requirement of employees wearing back braces. Yeah…

Hopefully I will never work for anyone else again, and I hope that if I do become someone’s boss, that I don’t treat my employees like the scum of the earth, the way HD treated me and millions of others like me.


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Starting a photography company | what NOT to do

If I were to go back in time to when I started my photography business, there’s a lot I would do different. There is also a lot that I would do the same, and there are a lot of things I see new photographers doing that make me shake my head. There are so many tips I could give, but I was inspired a moment ago to make a quick list of things that you should¬†not ever do when becoming a photographer.

1. Selective coloring. If you don’t know what that is, you’re probably doing it without realizing how tacky it is. Selective coloring means that the photographer has used editing software to leave one part of the image in color, while turning the rest to black and white – this is done frequently with blue eyes. It’s bad. It’s really bad, and there’s no excuse for doing it. Please, just save yourself the trouble of being horrified a few years from now, and don’t do it.

2. Starting a Facebook page before you’ve learned to use your camera. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be doing much of anything before you’ve got your camera figured out. Digital cameras make things pretty easy now, but photography is both a science and an art, and ignoring the science aspect of it will greatly affect the art aspect. Shooting on Auto mode is a HUGE no if you’re going to be an actual professional photographer.

3. Posting hundreds of photos of your kids on your “portfolio”. This sends the message to potential clients that you are not very professional or serious. They will either pass over you, or try to hire you for almost no money. It’s better to do free sessions for friends and family members to build a portfolio than it is to use your personal photos as portfolio pieces.

4. Undercutting. Do you ever want to be able to make a living at this? Then charge real prices. Find out what actually goes into a photography session. And if it’s just a hobby for you, don’t charge for it. Charging too little is ignorant to the fact that photography is a lot of work and a big initial and ongoing investment.

5. Ignoring the sun. Where are the shadows? Many a good photograph is ruined by strange or harsh shadows on a person’s face. If you don’t know what shadows look good, then avoid them; shoot in the shade, or shoot with the sun or light source behind your subject. But wait – aren’t you supposed to¬†avoid shooting into the sun?

backlit maternity photo

backlit couples photo


backlit kids




6. Knowing the “rules” but not understanding them. “Don’t shoot into the sun” is probably at the top of your dad’s list of photographical rules, but do you know why people tell you not to shoot into the sun? It’s because your camera is probably set to evaluative metering, and¬†if you have your camera on auto,¬†backlit photos will be too dark. Expose for your subject, and you’re fine. Some of the other rules I have heard include:

  • you should always use the rule of thirds
  • you should not have too much head space
  • shoot with the smallest aperture possible – everything should be in focus
  • never place a horizon in the middle of your photograph

Breaking the rules is cool, as long as you understand why they are rules.

7. Shooting with a flash if you have no idea how to use it. That pop-up flash on your camera…don’t even think about using it. Drop shadow is ugly. You’re better off shooting with no flash at all (which will force you to find good ambient light) than shooting badly with a flash.

8. Boudoir that looks like amateur porn. Bad angles, dark photos, cluttered backgrounds, duck face, greenish skin tones, unnecessary glow, double chins, poor skin tones and cheap hotel rooms are all marks of bad boudoir. If your photos are blurring the line between classy and cheap, just leave boudoir to those who are good at it.

9. Excessive vignetting. Where did this come from?!? In what alternate universe do people think that using the auto-vignette function in their editing software makes a photo “professional”? It looks cheesy, so please please¬†please don’t do it!

10. Taking your camera to a child’s birthday party. Children’s birthday parties are not photo ops. Other parents who see you taking photos for free at a child’s birthday party will not think of you as their new photographer – they will think of you as a not-for-profit photographer. NTM you look foolish. Leave the SLR at home for kids’ birthdays.

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Loads of tiny X’s

In my parents house, before they moved into their condo, two tiny cross stitched flowers hung on the wall above the desk. One was mine and the other my sisters. They were quite simple, and mine had a fairly major flaw. Oops. It was my first cross stitch project and I still remember my mom teaching me – I couldn’t have been more than 8. I was really into saving the earth, so next I did a fridge magnet that said “Let the ocean s live” and to the left of the “s” is a dolphin. I’m not sure if it’s meant to represent “let the ocean dolphins live” – whatever. I remember it as painstaking, despite the fact that, looking back, it was tiny.

I’ve moved up, a bit. I’ve taken up some cross stitching again after not having done it for several years. I’d been itching to do one for a while, but couldn’t find a premade pattern that wasn’t both hideous and way too simple, so I downloaded a free trial of some pattern software (I actually own this software, but it’s on my ancient computer) and created something pretty simple to start. There’s a photo of it from last week on this blog post. I’m glad to say it’s become recognizable.

Peacock cross stitch


I’m making a big effort not to make a total mess of my kitchen table, but it is nice to be able to sit in here and do this and be close to my daughter all day, instead of being in the office while she’s out in the livingroom by herself.

Peacock Cross Stitch

I actually considered having a “guess what it is and you win it” contest, but firstly, it’s way too easy to figure out, and secondly, my daughter asked if she could have it, and I can’t say no to her. Maybe on the next one!

Speaking of, what should I stitch  next?

Jen McLeod, Concrete Oyster


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Your baby is not broken

Sleepy Baby

I try to keep this blog away from too much parenting, but I’m an utter failure. What can I say? I think it’s probably better that I say these things that come to my mind here rather than trying (so, so hard) to be get my opinion across diplomatically on Facebook groups. It never works. I never mean to offend people, but somehow I always do.

Anyway, back to the point of my story. Being a mom to a tiny person, I belong to lots of groups on that aforementioned social networking site (I join these groups for business networking reasons – perhaps there lies my folly) that cater directly to those who define themselves by the fact of their status as mothers – that is to say, new mothers. So, every third day or so, someone posts “how do I get my baby to stop getting up so many times a night?” Ten other women have always recommended the usual myriad of sleep-fixing books in the first 45 seconds after the question has been posted. The majority of them read exactly like this: “my son/daughter/dumb acronym for son or daughter didn’t sleep through until s/he was 83.7 months, but I found the book ‘How to bewitch your baby into doing something totally unnatural’ helped ALLOT (sic, obviously)”.

Seriously, I remember those days of never, ever sleeping and I wish that instead of giving me a list of reading material, someone had just slapped me across the face instead. I tried book after book, method after method. Nothing worked. Why? Because babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night. It’s amazing how these stupid books and so-called experts can make us call into question our own instincts (or worse, distract us from the fact that we even have instincts) and create their own little market by claiming to fix problems that don’t actually exist. I would have gotten a hell of a lot more sleep if I hadn’t been so worried about when my daughter should be eating, playing, sleeping and pooping. I was so busy trying to shush and pat her into my skewed view of what life and motherhood should look like that I probably kept us both up. If I hadn’t had so much on my mind, I could probably have fallen asleep after middle of the night feedings. But I bought into this idea that there was something fixable about the situation and, like a fool, put a bunch of energy toward something that actually didn’t matter. It turns out, in case you are wondering, that babies are people and not things that come with a manual. Your baby is not broken. It’s a baby. Just roll with the punches.

I’ve been pretty hard on the baby experts, but surely pop culture is to blame…? Clearly someone is putting it out there that babies should do as told, that they have 6-8 weeks to get that night-waking situation under control, and that’s why we think something is wrong when our babies ignore these rules. Right?

If I could go back in time, I would toss all those sleep advice books in the trash (ok I’d recycle them – I love trees) and use some common sense; baby=untamed animal=will do what’s natural. How can that be wrong?

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